State Management: COACH and CRASH states

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

A key word in using NLP effectively is state. A state can be understood as a particular pattern of mind and body. In everyday language, we can describe people as being in a happy state or a relaxed state or an upset state. Other common states are motivation, curiosity, or love. This article is a brief introduction to state management and the powerful COACH state.

Clearly, some states are more useful than others when we are trying to do NLP work with other people or with ourselves and these useful states are called resourceful states. For example, a motivational state is generally more useful than an agitated state when we want to focus on getting something done. Similarly, a relaxed state is often more useful when we want to do access the unconscious mind. Robert Dilts talks about two states called COACH and CRASH. These are summarized below.


A CRASH state is generally unresourceful and not useful in achieving our goals. This state is generally provoked by meeting something fearful or unknown or getting caught in a loop where our thinking is paralyzed. The CRASH state can be seen as a reversion to survival strategies of fight, flight, or freeze, and can result in confusion, conflict, difficulty in letting go and inertia.

nalysis Paralysis
urt and Hatred


In contrast to the CRASH state, the COACH state is a highly resourceful state that we can enter in order to carry out NLP work effectively.

Attending with Awareness

State Management

Deliberately accessing a useful state is called state management and being able to control your own state is vital in effective NLP work. Because one of the main presuppositions of NLP is that mind and body form a single system, state management also consists of two components:

a) entering the physiology of the desired state
b) using the mental representations of the desired state


When someone enters a panicked state, the people around them often say things like “take a deep breath,” and this is a good example of a suggestion to  adopt a more useful physiological state. Here is how one writer describes the benefits of deep breathing:

Deep breathing benefits the body by taking in the correct amount of oxygen which in turn lowers blood pressure and relaxes muscles. It also relaxes the brain and causes the heart rate to slow down. Deep breathing helps our body to release more carbon dioxide. Amongst the many health benefits of deep breathing are its cleansing properties for the lymphatic system. We know that the lymph surrounds all the cells in our bodies, correct breathing technique removes the toxins from these cells through the lymphatic system. Deep breathing is known to release endorphins which, in layman’s terms are called feel good hormones. These are natural pain killers in the body and help relax the muscles and nerves. Deep breathing is also known to help people who are depressed. Asthmatics also benefit a lot from deep breathing as it makes the abdominal muscles stronger and improves the lung capacity. Shallow breathing leads to the flow of insufficient oxygen in the body which leads to muscle exertion, lethargy and fatigue. Deep breathing can help us activate our relaxationstress relievers. It also helps people suffering from insomnia. Deep breathing exercise benefits in losing weight.

Clearly, a simple shift in physiology such as taking a deep breath can affect a person’s state enormously. Other useful physiological shifts include moving from a slumped posture to an upright one or taking a few minutes to do stretches.

Mental Representations

Mental or internal representations are the patterns we use to represent the world to ourselves in our own minds and consist of our internal pictures, sounds, dialogues, and feelings. By beginning to take control of your internal representations, you can start to manage your state in exactly the way that you want to achieve your desired outcome. A simple example is when you remember a happy time. As you remember that time now, pictures, sounds, and feelings from that time will return to you as you relive that time. Your mind makes no distinction between the original happy time and your memory of it, so if you re-enter that memory fully and completely, you will naturally re-enter the happy state that you experienced at that time.


This article has been a short introduction to state management and the powerful COACH state. By learning to manage your state deliberately and effectively, eventually you will find that you are achieving your desired outcomes much more easily.

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

Earcleaning and the Submodalities of Sound

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

NLP can be described as the structure of subjective reality. In other words, NLP focuses not on the physical phenomena themselves but rather how people perceive them and take meaning from them. The key presupposition of NLP is: The Map is Not the Territory. What is happening in the world is not the same as how people perceive it. It is useful to think of this presupposition in terms of our major senses such as seeing and hearing, what would be termed visual and auditory modalities in NLP terminology.

Like many languages, English makes a clear distinction between the map and the territory for the visual and auditory modalities. The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers the following definitions:

to see: to perceive by the eye
to watch: to keep someone or something under close observation

to hear: to perceive or apprehend by the ear
to listen: to pay attention to sound

Both sets of definition echo the distinction between the map and the territory, the difference between the physical and the psychological worlds. Hearing is the physical act of sound entering the ear and represents the territory, the “objective” world of sound waves travelling through the air, entering our ears, and eventually reaching our brain through a series of transformations. Listening is the much more subjective map. We listen or pay attention to a certain sound because we are looking for information or meaning within it because our map of the world suggests to us that that particular sound may provide information that is useful in some way.

When I was teaching a graduate class on the use of sound in language and society, the students came up with the following table to explain some of the differences between “hearing” and “listening.”

Table 1. Differences between hearing and listening
Hearing Listening
No attention/unconscious Attention/focus/conscious
Automatic Intended
Sound Meaning
Passive Active
Physical Psychological

The students have effectively pointed out some of the important differences between hearing and listening and their examples echo the distinctions made in the definitions given above. We all know the difference between hearing and listening and we are all aware that listening is the way in which people use the sound in the environment around them to make sense of the world.

The interface between a person and the environment is of course, the ears. The human ear is truly an amazing piece of equipment, but what is surprising is how little we think about how to use it effectively. When you buy a new computer, telephone, or microwave over, you may have read the manual to find out all the functions and to learn how to use it in the most useful ways. Or perhaps you didn’t, and instead you played with the machine for a while to figure out how it worked. The world seems to be divided into the kind of people who read manuals and those who don’t. One approach is not necessarily better than the other, but it is nice to have a manual available so that we can refer to it if we can’t work out a function by playing. It would be nice if there was a manual for our ears. There isn’t, however, so we have to play, explore, and work it out ourselves. One of the first steps in exploring the functionality of the ears is what Scahfer (1969) and others have called earcleaning.

When we talk about earcleaning, we don’t just mean taking the wax out of your ears! We also mean paying more attention to the sounds that you hear so that you get more information from your environment. Below is a simple exercise that has been adapted from Schafer (1969) and other sources.

Earcleaning Activity

1. List all the sounds you can hear around you for 2~3 minutes.

2. Volume of Sounds

List sounds in order from loudest to most quiet

3. Length and Recurrence of sound

Is the sound …

Continuous ( C )

Repeating   ( R )

Unique   ( U )

4. Locating Sounds

Draw a circle.

Inside the circle draw the sounds that you made.

Outside, draw other sounds in the direction and at the distance that you heard them.

5. Classifying Sounds

What is the source of the sound?

Natural (N)

Human (H)

Technological (T)

Made by yourself (X)

6. Moving Sounds

Is the sound …?

Stationary (S)

Moving towards you (M+)

Moving away from you (M-)

Submodalities of Sound

In NLP, we might refer to the process of earcleaning as an exploration of the submodalities of sound. The primary modalities that humans perceive are related to the five senses and are shown below, along with examples of the submodalities of each. For those readers who aren’t familiar with the concept of submodalities, the table below gives some examples.

Table 2. Modalities, senses, and submodalities
Modality Sense Sample submodalities
visual see size, colour or b/w, moving or still
auditory hear loud or soft, near or far
kinesthetic feel warm or cool, rough or smooth
gustatory taste spicy, salty
olfactory smell strong/weak

Submodalities of sound help us to focus on particular aspects of information within the sounds that we hear. The earcleaning exercise above was a good example of focusing on different submodalities in order to clean the ears or to raise our wareness of the richness of the information that is available to us in the sounds that we hear. While we cannot escape our maps of the world completely, describing the submodality in “objective” physical terms is an attempt to describe the territory, while describing it in “subjective” psychological terms is a recognition that each person’s map is different and that a sound will convey different meaning to each person. For example, a musician listening to a piece of music will probably receive different information to a non-musician because their maps are different. Another way to say this is that the musician and non-musician focus on different submodalities of the music and are able to draw different information from the submodalities.

In the earcleaning exercise above, some of the submodalities practiced were loudness, length and recurrence, location, type of sound, and movement of sound source. Below, I have given some other useful submodalities of sound that you can become aware of. Some of them are most useful when you are listening to non-verbal sounds or music. Others such as tonality are very useful when you are trying to raise your sensory acuity of the use of sound in speech.

  • Source of sound
  • Tempo
  • Changes in volume, pitch, or other submodality
  • Tonality
  • Timbre of sound
  • Tempo
  • High or low pitch
  • Mono or stereo
  • Inflections in speech
  • Pauses in stream of sound
  • Duration
  • Rhythm
  • Source of voice (who?)
  • Background sound or foreground sound

Have fun with your practice in identifying these submodalities in the sounds that you hear around you. Earcleaning is  a good awareness-raising exercise to carry out, and it can be done easily wherever you are. Doing it at the train station, in a busy city street, in your bedroom, or sitting next to a mountain stream will all enrichen your awareness of the sounds around us and the information that we can perceive from them. What is important to remember is that the more that you practice making these distinctions, the more you will be able to use the submodalities of sound effectively in your own life and in your NLP processes.

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

Binaural Beats: A Short Introduction

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen

All over the Internet, there are claims that binaural beats are beneficial in some way, and they are often included as a background in hypnosis or relaxation audio programs. Like many claims, this is one that is worth examining a little more closely to see if it rests upon a solid foundation of research. This article does not attempt to examine the research in detail, but provides a brief introduction to binaural beats.

What are binaural beats?

The Webster-Merriam dictionary defines binaural as:

of, relating to, or involving two or both ears

Although this definition tells us that both ears are involved, binaural beats are not simply a stereo rhythm pattern as the name might indicate. Beats is a physical phenomenon that occurs when two very similar waves interfere with one another. These can be waves of sound, light, or a physical medium such as water, but for this article we are interested in beats resulting from the interference of sound waves. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica describes the simplest case of beats:

… beats result when two sinusoidal sound waves of equal amplitude and very nearly equal frequencies mix. The frequency of the resulting sound (F) would be the average of the two original frequencies (f1 and f2):

The amplitude or intensity of the combined signal would rise and fall at a rate (fb) equal to the difference between the two original frequencies,

where f1 is greater than f2.

In other words, a new frequency is perceived which is equal to the difference between the two original frequencies. So, for example, if a 320 Hz sine wave is played into the right ear and a 330Hz one into the left ear, the brain perceives a beat frequency of 10 Hz.  This is an interesting phenomenon because normal human hearing extends from 20Hz – 20kHz. So the phenomenon of binaural beats is allowing the brain to perceive a frequency that would not normally be possible.

Binaural beats differ to normal tones because they are the effect created by the brain when a different tone is heard by each ear. It is as if the brain has naturally mixed the two sounds to produce a new sound. Certain conditions need to apply for the brain to perceive this beats frequency. First, the frequency of the tones must be below about 1,000 hertz. Second, the difference between the two frequencies must be below about 30 Hz.

The history of binaural beats

Binaural beats were discovered in 1839 by Heinrich Wilhelm Dove, but it was not until 1973 that they attracted attention as a possible treatment method when Oster collected and published the results of modern research on binaural beats (also called auditory beats) in the brain (Oster, 1973). Oster claimed that binaural beats involve different neurological pathways than ordinary auditory processing. His research was followed up by Campbell (2007) and others who investigated the effects of binaural beats on consciousness. They attempted to reproduce the perceived effects of reported out-of-body experiences.

This research was a contributing factor in the formation of  the Monroe Institute, a charitable binaural research and education organization. According to their website, the Monroe Institute “provides experiential education programs facilitating the personal exploration [and evolution] of human consciousness.” The Monroe Institute has developed a type of binaural beats which they call Hemi-Sync. It is used

… for integrating brain functions, … for mental, emotional, and physical healing through the use of varied binaural sounds

These are some of the strongest claims to be found on the Internet about binaural beats and the work of the Monroe Institute has clearly been a force behind the widespread popularization of binaural beats and the claims that are made for their usefulness.

Claims about binaural beats

As an example of one of the widespread claims about binaural beats on the Internet, one website says that:

Binaural beat audio tracks directly affect brainwaves and can positively alter feelings, behaviors, even your state of being.

We can divide this claim into two parts. First, there is the strong claim that “binaural beat audio tracks directly affect brainwaves.” Second, there is the hedged claim that “binaural beat audio tracks can positively alter feelings, behaviors, even your state of being.” At one level, both of these statements are hard to disagree with since pretty much any stimulus will affect your brainwaves, and any statement with can used as a modal operator is grammatically a statement of possibility and not a fact. Even if one person in a thousand is positively affected by binaural beat tracks, the statement can still be said to be true.

But the clear implication of this website’s claim and the claims on so many other sites on the Internet is that binaural beat audio tracks are good for you in some way. If we are to metamodel the quoted claim, some of the questions that we might ask include:

  1. How specifically do they positively alter feelings and behaviours? (Modal operator of possibility)
  2. Who says they positively alter feelings and behaviours? (Lost performative)
  3. All binaural beat audio tracks? Which particular binaural beat tracks can have this effect? (Universal quantifier)
  4. Positively in specifically which ways? For example, do they increase good feelings, or decrease bad feelings or …? (Simple deletion)

Below, I take up several of these questions to take a look at some of the research into binaural beats.

Why might binaural beats be effective?

In order to understand why bianural beats could be effective, we need to understand entrainment. Entrainment is the process whereby two interacting oscillating systems, which have different periods when they function independently, assume the same period. This was originally noticed by the physicist Christian Huygens in the 17th century by observing that two pendulums clocks started moving with the same period. The period of a wave is the length of time that it takes to complete one cycle. Since the frequency of a wave is the number of cycles per second, entrainment also implies that the frequency of the two oscillating systems also begins to match.

Sounds, music, and the human brain are all examples of oscillating systems, and it is possible for brain entrainment to occur in exactly the same way as the pendulums. In the example above, a perceived frequency of 10Hz corresponds to the alpha range of brain activity.

As noted above,the phenomenon of beats can allow the brain to perceive very low frequency tones that would not normally be possible. Being able to perceive a frequency of 10Hz is interesting because this is in the alpha range of brainwave activity. Table 1 below shows the well-accepted brainwaves with their related frequencies and the type of activity associated with each one.

Table 1. Brainwaves, frequencies, and typical activities
Brainwave type Frequency Typical activity
beta 15-40 Hz aroused and actively engaged in mental activities
alpha 9-14 Hz resting or taking a break
theta 5-8 Hz daydreaming
delta 1.5 – 4 Hz deep dreamless sleep

When the perceived beat frequency corresponds to one of these brainwave frequencies, the brainwaves entrain to the beat frequency and are postulated to generate the typical activity pattern. So the alpha range is associated with relaxation. The beta range will produce alertness. Entraining in the theta or delta range could produce deep daydreaming or sleep.

Particular Frequencies?

At least one website gives a very precise correlation between frequencies and a large number of medical/spiritual effects including alcoholism, opening of the third eye, muscle pain, confusion, depression, and arthritis. The list is described as including the following types of frequencies:

  • Brainwave frequencies associated with various mental states
  • “Healing” frequencies which could be used to heal illnesses of different kinds, or stimulate some region of the body (chakras).
  • Natural phenomena frequencies including natural frequencies that occur in nature (e.g. Schumann’s Resonance which is an aural pituitary stimulation to release growth hormone), as well as sound tones calculated from the revolution/orbit of the various planets.


This article has been a short introduction to the rationale behind binaural beats. While it does seem logically possible that brain entrainment may occur and positive effects may result from binaural beats, this article has not attempted to answer the questions raised in the metamodeling above though an investigation of research to determine whether these effects have been systematically corroborated.


  1. Campbell, T. (2007). My Big Toe. Lightning Strike Books.
  2. Oster, G. (1973). Auditory beats in the brain. Sci. Am. 229 (4): 94–102.

Copyright © 2010 by Dr. Brian Cullen,
Associate Professor, Nagoya Institute of Technology

NLP Coaching and Training

Looking for ideas for NLP research

I am hoping to get a sabbatical sometime for six months. If it comes through, I’m planning to spend the time on NLP research. Even if it doesn’t come through, I’m still planning to spend a lot more time on NLP research – which leads me to the question.

Question: If you were to choose an area/application of NLP that is very worthwhile researching, what would it be?

I have lots of ideas myself already, and would love to hear lots more.